Nehruvian secularism places Muslims not as equals but as a permanent minority to Hindus: Arif Mohammad Khan


Since the early 1980s, Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan has been consistently fighting against the fundamentalist forces of the country, whether it was in the Shah Bano case during Rajiv Gandhi’s regime or the Udupi hijab controversy in Narendra Modi’s times. What’s ironical — and that’s the testimony to the skewed form of secularism being pursued in India — is that the liberals too hate him, accusing him of being “Islamophobic”. Khan, however, remains undeterred. In an exclusive interaction with Firstpost, he talks on a range of issues from his controversial temple visits to his hijab ‘conspiracy’ comment. He also takes serious offence to the minority-majority politics being played in India post-Independence. Excerpts:

You have often been attacked by fundamentalists. The latest being in the wake of your Sabarimala and Ujjain Mahakal temple visits when a Sunni leader said that doors were open for you to leave Islam. Why can’t a Muslim, more so a Muslim Governor, go to a temple? How do you explain this phenomenon?

Anything and everything these people are uncomfortable with, they object to, often violently. What I find quite ludicrous is that this is not the first time I have visited a temple. I visited several temples and also contributed to the construction of some during the early 1980s when I was a Member of Parliament. I was given fatwa then for my temple trips. I received a series of fatwas in 1986 during the Shah Bano case. So, why are these fundamentalist elements surprised and shocked again? They have already given me several fatwas. They can give more.

As far as I am concerned, my God is not confined to any place of worship, including temples or mosques. There’s a famous Prophetic tradition which says that God can be seen in those who are unwell, hungry and in pain. There’s also a beautiful shloka in the Bhagavad Gita that says: “Yo māṁ paśhyati sarvatra sarvaṁ cha mayi paśhyati/tasyāhaṁ na praṇaśhyāmi sa cha me na praṇaśhyati” (For those who see me everywhere and see all things in me, I am never lost, nor are they ever lost to me). I am a believer, but I am not a ritualist. For me, God is omnipresent, and not confined to temples or mosques.

It’s natural for a mullah to hate you. But ironically, you are also targeted by so-called liberals, including your own co-religionists. What explains this paradox?

Liberal Hindus target me because of their contrived notion of secularism, which encourages them to be politically correct. As for Muslim liberals, I have absolutely no doubt that most of them are liberal and secular in their personal lives, but unfortunately they identify themselves with an imperial culture. They seem to imbibe the Islamic supremacist mindset which makes them believe that they belong to the ruling class and before their arrival there was darkness in India, little realising that the Prophet himself had said that he could feel “a cool breeze coming from Hind”. They are also not aware of what Arab historians had written about India: They said out of five civilisations in the world, India’s was the only one that was known for the promotion of knowledge and wisdom.

They need to make a distinction between culture and religion. I see a lot of Indian Muslims having problems with using Indian names but they will gladly adopt Iranian names like Rustom, Sohrab or Pervez. It’s because Iranians stood their cultural ground vis-à-vis Arabs. I still remember meeting an Indonesian who said, pointing at the famous Krishna-Arjun statue in Bali: “Islam is our religion and this is our culture.” Indian Muslims need to learn from Iranians or even Indonesians, and start making distinction between culture and religions.

The so-called liberals often accuse you of provoking the minorities. They even accuse you of being Islamophobic. Your comments?

I am not Islamophobic. Why should I be one? I come from a Muslim family. But I have problems with the narrative of victimhood. Because once you invoke victimhood, it makes you less confident, it alienates you from the mainstream. I believe anybody should not be killed without due process of law. But I have a problem when a lynching narrative is created for narrow political gains. Five attempts have been made to lynch me. The last one was made at Jamia Millia where I had gone to attend the burial procession of Mushirul Hasan, I narrowly survived.

Much before Dadri happened, lynchings were in place. The man to whose book Muslims took exception to is still alive, but how many people have been lynched in its name? Three hundred fifty! Most of the victims were merely working for the organisation that published the book. So, who introduced this culture of lynching? We can’t use lynching as an instrument to show dissent one day, and when others start imitating us, we claim victimhood! That’s not right.

We see minority-pandering in the name of secularism. Even someone like Manmohan Singh defined it in terms of minorities having the first right to India’s resources. How do you see it?

I have publicly objected to this interpretation of secularism. It creates distrust among Hindus and Muslims, placing one against another as competitors for national resources. It’s a zero-sum game, originally played by the British to put one community against another. Before Independence, our leaders saw through this colonial policy of divide and rule and opposed it tooth and nail. But after 1947, a large number of our own politicians took to this policy. Before Independence it was Hindus versus Muslims, after Independence it became the issue of majority versus minority.

I say it categorically that I resent the use of the term “minority”. By using this term, one is inclined to see Muslims as a lesser being. This takes away the notion of equal citizenship, a sense of pride. The most fundamental folly of Nehruvian secularism is that it condemns Muslims not as equals but as a permanent minority to Hindus.

From Shah Bano to triple talaq, you have worked with Rajiv Gandhi and now Narendra Modi. Interestingly, the two leaders in different capacities were associated with the Ram temple. How do you look at them and their approach in dealing with issues, especially those related to minorities?

I don’t believe in comparisons. I will, however, say that Rajiv jee was a gentleman. He wouldn’t have done what he did with Shah Bano but for his wrong advisers. As for Narendra Modi jee, you will be surprised to know that I was critical of him after the Gujarat violence, and had I not spent six months in Gujarat I would not have judged him correctly.

Before becoming the Governor of Kerala, I had met him just three times, and that too in the triple talaq context. After the Supreme Court verdict, I had written a scathing six-page letter, saying if Modi failed to go ahead with a triple talaq legislation, then we would be committing the blunder that Rajiv Gandhi committed in the 1986 Shah Bano case. Next day he called me, and during the 45-minute chat he told me that the law ministry would call me to discuss the issue. When the triple talaq Bill was finally passed from both Houses of Parliament, I met PM Modi to congratulate him. And Modi, in his characteristic style, asked me if I would be willing to take some responsibility. This single incident showed that for Modi personal loyalty was not important, issues alone were paramount.

You called the Udupi hijab controversy a conspiracy. Why?

I have always believed that the hijab controversy is actually a conspiracy. When you go to an institution, educational or otherwise, you follow the dress code of that place. The institution won’t change its rule for the select few. I feel bad for these young girls; they are innocent and are being made pawns for the bigger, sinister game of targeting the Modi government. Traditionally too, hijab is not an integral part of Islam. There are several instances that women during the Prophet’s time would not wear hijab. Someone as close as the niece of the Prophet’s wife refused to wear it.

But there are so many mullahs who say hijab is essential.

The Quran has clearly laid it down that there are five pillars of Islam. If Islam itself has these five pillars, why should we add the sixth to it? Do I have the authority? Is hijab included in the five pillars? The five pillars are clearly defined, clearly laid down. In fact, the term ‘hijab’ has been used only seven times in the Quran.

So, do you think it’s the time to bring Uniform Civil Code in the country?

Actually the term Uniform Civil Code is not the right word. The idea is not uniformity, but to make the case for common rights and obligations. The right word is Common Civil Code. We need to understand that Common Civil Code is a constitutional obligation, decided by our Constituent Assembly. The only debating point is its timing: Whether it should be made now, or we should wait for some more time.

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Nehruvian secularism places Muslims not as equals but as a permanent minority to Hindus: Arif Mohammad Khan
Nehruvian secularism places Muslims not as equals but as a permanent minority to Hindus: Arif Mohammad Khan
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